Friday, May 23, 2008
Hotei at the Berkeley Art Museum
After I turned in my final class paper yesterday, I was feeling rather disoriented. I've put in a lot of work this semester and while I've really enjoyed it, I also felt like somebody pulled the rug out from under me - no more assignments due for a whole summer. So, I decided to go over to Berkeley. I haven't been in ages and I was saddened to see how Telegraphy Avenue continues to go downhill. I remember when it was fun but it's not fun now and the human flotsam and jetsam on the streets is tragic. I walked over the University Art museum to check out the galleries and collections. I revisited the Hans Hoffman galleries and, not for the first time, wished that we had better examples of his work. The push-pull in these pieces is more like clunk! thud! The polka-dotted pieces by Jennifer Bartlet are not her best work either but I did love the Hotei.
One of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune in Japanese popular legend, Hotei is commonly depicted as a cheerful, large-bellied monk who carries a sack full of good things to distribute to everyone he meets. In a Zen milieu, he is often associated with Maitreya, the Buddha of the future. In Hotei in a Boat, Hakuin charmingly depicts the smiling figure of Hotei popping out from his big round bag, as if the god were one more treasure emerging from its bottomless depths. Hakuin has been one of the major figures in Japanese Zen Buddhism over the last three centuries, having revitalized the Rinzai sect and revived the use of koans (riddle-like catalysts for thought, such as Hakuin's own "the sound of one hand clapping") in Zen practice. A deft and prolific painter, Hakuin used his painting and calligraphy both as a personal, ritual activity and as currency, presenting numerous paintings as gifts to donors and potential patrons. Hotei was a favorite subject for Hakuin, the deity's happy generosity equated with the joyful spreading of Buddhist teachings.
Image and description from the Berkeley Art Museum Web Site